Public Service’s response to TAFEP guideline on mental health declaration
Parliamentary question, 4 Feb 2020
Ms Anthea Ong asked the Prime Minister (a) what is the public service’s response to the latest TAFEP guideline on mental health declaration as a discriminatory practice; (b) which Government agencies are still asking for this declaration from job applicants; © how many applicants who declared their mental health condition have joined the public service and how many have not; and (d) what is the public service’s workplace mental health and fair employment strategy in the hiring and support of persons with mental health conditions and the fostering of a mental-health friendly environment for all employees.
The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Chan Chun Sing) (for the Prime Minister): Mr Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Prime Minister. Since 1 May 2017, the Singapore Public Service has removed declaration questions on medical health from our public service job application forms. We do not track the number of applicants with mental health conditions who have joined the Public Service.
The Public Service is also committed to providing our officers with an inclusive and mental-health friendly workplace. Our public agencies provide support at different levels to our officers. Alternative work arrangements such as part-time work can be explored between officers with mental health conditions and their supervisors to better manage their condition or recovery.
The Public Service Division is actively encouraging and facilitating public agencies to provide their officers with access to counselling services and as such, 24/7 hotlines and face-to-face counselling are available in the majority of public agencies who have put in place Employee Assistance Programmes.
However, we understand that this alone is not enough. We need to establish higher awareness of mental health and a strong culture of peer support. Therefore, we are promoting wider training of our managers and HR officers to extend appropriate care, when necessary. We tap on training programmes, such as the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB’s) Management Training workshop, to equip managers with skills to detect early signs of distress and to support employees in managing them. More than 500 public officers have participated in the HPB workshop so far and we continue to send more officers to the programme. Several public agencies have also built up a network of officers to provide first-in-line peer support to their colleagues who are in distress. For instance, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has a group of Wellness Warriors to provide a listening ear to their colleagues who need one.
Our officers’ overall well-being is important to us. PSD seeks to continually learn and enhance our initiatives to enhance workplace mental health. Therefore, we welcome and participate in the Workwell Leaders Workgroup, which is a useful platform to learn best practices. The Public Service Division will continue working with our public agencies to strengthen a caring workplace culture for all.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Ms Anthea Ong.
Ms Anthea Ong (Nominated Member): Thank you, Sir. I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. I appreciate the Minister’s assurance because, as the largest employer and given that one in seven Singaporeans has a mental health condition in their life time, we would not want to turn Singaporeans away who want to serve in the Public Service.
I just want to read this from someone who wrote to me: “I tried to register as a relief teacher with MOE but was rejected just because I have a history of depression.” Now, I understand, obviously, it is very textured. But I just want to ask the Minister, how are we ensuring that all Ministries and agencies will adhere to the TAFEP guideline. In addition, can the Minister also share if the Government allows for medical claims for psychiatric treatment and if mental health leave is given for Government employees. If not, are there plans to do so?
Mr Chan Chun Sing: Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot comment on the specific case without further details. If Ms Anthea Ong has the specific details, we welcome her to provide MOE or the Public Service Division with the details and we can follow up on that.
We do not have “mental health leave” at this point in time. But I am sure if somebody, for medical exigencies, needs extra care, they can contact their respective supervisors and we can work out the appropriate arrangements.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)
The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.
She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).
Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng